8 Decluttering Tips for Hoarders

Updated: Jul. 10, 2024

When signs of hoarding appear, use these tips to get things under control before full-scale hoarding takes over.

The term “hoarder” usually comes with images of something like what my grandma’s house looked like — stuff piled waist-high, with only a path wide enough to walk through the house. There’s nowhere to sit or do anything enjoyable, with barely enough room to move.

However, there are stages of hoarding. What some may think of as innocent clutter can lead to a much more overloaded and stressful environment.

“Both the difficulty letting go of objects and the inability to resist acquiring new items is often due to anxiety or guilt about missed opportunities that the objects represent to that person,” says Gail Steketee, Ph.D., an emerita member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the International Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) Foundation. “Unfortunately, that leads to clutter which can also provoke discomfort and feeling overwhelmed.”

If your home is getting stuffed with stuff, try these expert decluttering tips for hoarders to take back your space.

What Is Hoarding?

According to Tina Judge, a nurse practitioner and clinical specialist in psychiatry at Momentum Behavioral Health, “Hoarding refers to a psychological disorder characterized by persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of their actual value.

“Individuals who hoard typically accumulate an excessive number of items over time, leading to clutter and disorganization in their living spaces,”

What Are the Stages of Hoarding?

“The five stages of hoarding are a conceptual framework that describes the progression and severity of hoarding behaviors,” Judge says. “It is important to note that not all individuals with hoarding tendencies will go through each stage, and the progression can vary from person to person.”

Judge describes the stages this way:

  • Stage 1: Acquisition. Individuals begin acquiring possessions excessively. They may collect items they believe are valuable, useful or sentimental.
  • Stage 2: Clutter. As possessions accumulate, clutter may interfere with the normal use of rooms, causing difficulties with cleaning, organizing and finding necessary items.
  • Stage 3: Difficulty discarding. Individuals experience increased difficulty discarding possessions and may develop strong emotional attachments to items. They fear they might need them in the future, or they’ll regret getting rid of them.
  • Stage 4: Disorganization and impairment. Clutter and disorganization become severe, making navigating or using living spaces as intended challenging. The excessive accumulation of possessions may cause health and safety hazards.
  • Stage 5: Isolation and functional decline. Excessive clutter and disorganization often lead to social isolation, strained relationships and withdrawal from activities. Living conditions may deteriorate to the point where essential utilities are compromised.

If you’re beginning to hoard, use the following tips to take back control of your home.

Seek Help

“You need to be courageous and willing to seek help — not just counseling to help understand and overcome why you feel the need to keep everything but also someone to come alongside you and dig into the mess,” says Carrie Ypma, expert organizer and founder of Clutter Keeper.

Getting a friend, a family member or a professional organizer to help you declutter will make you more accountable so you can make great strides and clear the clutter faster.”

Make a List

“Make a list of all the areas you want to clean and organize,” Ypma says. “As you complete each area or space, check it off the list and celebrate. It’s incredibly rewarding to see how far you’ve come and to cross things off your list,”

Try a Simple Decluttering Method

Clutter can be overwhelming, so choosing an easy decluttering method is best for beginner hoarders. One of the easiest and quickest ways to declutter is with the “Four-Box-Method.” This simplifies the process by categorizing items according to what action you plan to take.

The first box is for things you want to keep, the second for items that go back to where they belong, the third for items you want to donate, and the fourth for trash. For anyone struggling to figure out how to deal with their clutter, this is a great start.

Start With Easy Tasks

Beginning with easy tasks is one of the best tips. “Start small,” Ypma says. “If you try to go after the entire mess at one time, you’ll likely get so overwhelmed that you quit.”

Start with something as simple as collecting and getting rid of all the trash. Then grab your donation box and add any items you find easy to part with. Though it’s not tackling all the clutter, it will clear up much-needed space and motivate you to do more.

Find Ways to Make Decluttering Fun

“Play some music, have snacks, get a friend to help and make it fun rather than a boring chore that you dread,” Ypma says. Anytime you take on a sizable project, you’re more likely to do it if you make the process enjoyable.

Use a Timer

Pick one room or even one small area within a room, set a timer and tackle that piece of the mess,” Ypma says. “When the timer is done, keep going if you feel motivated, or stop for the day and start again tomorrow,”

Using a timer can prevent “decluttering paralysis,” Ypma says. It springs you into action and stops you from overthinking.

Take Clutter Out as Soon as Possible

Take trash and donation boxes out of the house as soon as possible so you’re not tempted to take a second look at the items. Out of sight means out of mind. Plus, you’ll have a fresh, more organized home rather than a bunch of boxes in the way.

How to Prevent Future Hoarding?

“Get in the habit of carving out 15 to 30 minutes every day to tidy up and put things back where they belong,” Ypma says. She also advises keeping trash cans and/or recycling bins in every room to make getting rid of clutter easier.

“You can also keep a ‘donate’ box in your closet to put things you’re ready to part with,” she says. “When the box is full, take it to a local nonprofit organization where it can find a new home.”